Belgian lawmakers want royal family’s allowance cut
Lawmakers of different parties are demanding overhaul of how taxpayer money are allocated to the royal family.18 April 2008
BRUSSELS - Belgian lawmakers demanded a cut in the living allowance of the king's youngest son Thursday following claims that the prince used taxpayer money to buy an Italian villa.
"Should we give an allowance to somebody that has turned into a real-estate agent?" Jean-Marie Dedecker, an opposition lawmaker, asked the prime minister. "There are no controls here, how will you change that?"
"Either he gets an allowance from the state or he becomes a real estate agent," said Pol Van Den Driessche, a member of the Christian Democrat party of Prime Minister Yves Leterme.
Lawmakers of different parties renewed calls for Leterme to overhaul the way living allowances are paid to the royal family. They asked as well that the approximately EUR 300,000 annual living allowance of King Albert's youngest son, Prince Laurent, be cut and the prince to get a job.
Opposition lawmakers asked for information on whether Laurent used taxpayers' money to purchase a villa in 2002, which news organisations reported cost EUR 1 million.
Most Flemish political parties have demanded a reform of existing rules on how a total of EUR 30 million a year is handed out to the royal family to cover living allowances, a detail of 234 security agents, transport and trips.
Costs of the Belgian-based villas and palaces where the royals live in are covered by separate budgets, because those homes are owned by the state.
The parties want the government to limit salaries to include only King Albert, Queen Paola, Crown Prince Philippe his wife Princess Mathilde.
Leterme declined to say what he would do. But Dedecker said the premier told him privately not to expect changes until the monarch dies or abdicates.
Debating the royal family's role and status remains a delicate issue in this country, which is split between 6 million Dutch-speaking Flemings and 4.5 million Francophones.
The monarchy is seen as a rare symbol of unity in a nation still fragile after a protracted political crisis between the two linguistic communities earlier this year. Francophone politicians often accuse Flemish parties of attacking the royals as part of efforts to weaken the state and promote autonomy or independence for Belgium's Dutch-speaking north.
Critics argue that money for the royals comes from various ministry budgets including defence, interior, finance and foreign affairs, making funding complex and confusing.
King Albert, his wife Queen Paola and his three children, their husbands and wives and 12 grandchildren all receive state funding, along with Queen Fabiola, the widow of Albert's late brother King Baudouin.
Revelations about Laurent's Italian villa come months after he was embroiled in a fraud case involving navy funds allegedly siphoned off to renovate his home in the outskirts of Brussels.
While he was not charged himself, a former Navy adviser to the prince was found guilty in the trial. The adviser and others charged in the case claimed the prince knew and benefited from the alleged scam.
Laurent said he was never aware that funds used to renovate his house were acquired illegally.
[AP / Expatica]